LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The late Earl Woods loved San Diego.
"If I were to die and could come back again, this is where I would want to live," he said several years ago, while sitting in his suite overlooking the South Course at Torrey Pines. "Best climate in the world. I can't tell you how many times I thought about moving here."
As was his charge early in Tiger's professional career, Earl served as Tiger's omnipresent confidant and traveling companion during the tour stops. This particular layover was in La Jolla for the Buick Invitational. He relished his duties as father of the best player in the world.
Earl handled a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff and sometimes played the heavy in public, which freed Tiger to concentrate on beating the heck out of every Thomas, Richard and Phillip. He would chuckle at the absurdities uttered by us media types when we speculated about what made his son tick.
"These guys will never figure Tiger out," he would say. "They don't know his heart or his head."
Sunday morning, as I received Father's Day wishes from my sons and other family members, my thoughts turned to that afternoon here some 10 or 11 years ago. It brought to mind the closeness of Earl and Tiger. Their shared love for San Diego. And the sheer joy of victory. Even the lessons learned from those rare defeats.
Earl preached many sermons to Tiger during his developmental years, but none more sustainable than the value of patience. When the urge to test the deep end of advanced competition might have tugged at Tiger, Earl held the reins firmly, realizing that his son's journey was more marathon than sprint.
He had an intuitiveness that could neither be duplicated nor simulated when it came to his son's welfare. I admired him for that; perhaps even envied him.
So this week, as a gimpy-kneed Tiger stalked another major championship, I couldn't help but wonder what Earl would have thought about his son's progress as a player and, more importantly, a man.
I have no doubt he would have been amused by the three-ring circus created when the USGA decided to pair the world's top three players for the first 36 holes. Another absurdity, he would have thought, as if Ali really needed Frazier and Foreman on the same stage to hype a heavyweight battle. He taught Tiger to focus on his game, play the course and not the other spikes--and let others crumble under the weight of his enormous talent and mental toughness. The outcome would have brought a chuckle, too.
Earl would have marveled like the rest of us at Tiger's assortment of chip-ins and holed putts because, yes, he was a father but he was also Tiger's biggest fan.
Mostly, though, he would have been proud that he and Kultida raised one helluva fighter; that Tiger took those lessons of patience to heart and used them every painful step of the way this week in the most adverse circumstances of his storied career. That's a sign of maturity in a man who is now a father himself.
As far as I know, Earl never got to move to San Diego, unless life in the spirit counts. But when Tiger's tying putt on the 72nd hole seemed to be pulled into the side door of the cup, I believe he might have had a hand in it. After all, he not only loved San Diego, he loved Father's Day presents--even belated ones.